Springdale, Arkansas, USA. +5 DAYS AFTER CONTACT.
The sound of boots on broken glass broke the silence, and Carl gripped his shotgun a little tighter as he swept the Target for looters. He wasn’t expecting any, but he heard through the radio that if your area was still without power, you should “shelter in place”. This was also codeword for “the cops aren’t there right now” and well. Carl sighed internally as he scooted a particularly garish discount rack out of the way with his foot, the sound purposefully made to raise eyebrows, suspicion… anything. The Target – the store, not something he was hunting – thankfully, had incorporated skylights into it’s ceiling, so as long as it was daylight he could see all across the store – and nothing but the store looked back at him.
“Well. This was a whole lot of nothing.”
And indeed, it was. In Tornado country everyone kept multiple radios, and the ones that were in hidey-holes or basements or even under enough metal to deflect the EMP still worked. He, personally, was out hunting when the invasion hit, so he just… kept hunting. An overnight trip turned into a 2 day weekend turned into him being the most popular man in the neighborhood when he finally rolled back home with a working vehicle and radio. NPR still ran – when it was able to – but everything else was basically co-opted by 24/7 Government Updates. It was somewhat hilarious to him to see his friends and neighbors – people who didn’t trust no gub’mint listen with rapt attention in his living room to updates from DC (or wherever the bunker they were broadcasting was from) explaining how things were going, casualties, where troops were handing out food, medicine, clean water-
Carl turned, nonplussed, at his tail.
“D’ya fuckin’ mind?”
He picked up this stranger about 2 miles back mainly because he was the only vehicle still running (at least, that he’s run into) after the EMP went off, and when you see a Ford F-150 from the early 60’s shuddering it’s way around Teslas and Mustangs, over sidewalks and through stopsigns – literally, in some cases – you tend to attract attention. It’s not like Carl wanted to be followed, but it was more a matter of his top speed was about 60MPH if he was pushing it, and the damn thing just kept pace with his vehicle.
“I think not. NO. Go away!” Carl yelled, trying to shoo the alien stranger away with the barrel of his gun as it poked it’s head around the busted sliding-glass doors. It was useless – the shorty he made and used only blew out his window and did nothing to stop his accomplice, so. It was relegated now to a very expensive and very illegal pointing stick.
But I won’t tell the ATF if you won’t.
Grumbling to no one in particular Carl helped himself to a couple shopping carts, making his way first to the “sporting goods” section – ammunition is always necessary, after all – and then once he loaded up there, he’d hit the various dry goods areas. Water filters would be important; it’s not like anyone needed tents or whatnot, as everyone’s houses still stood. The real pain in the ass is cooking and cleaning; cereal and water gets old real quick, and some people had display fireplaces, which, really! Why the fuck would you have a fireplace just to look nice and not actually be usab-
“[ANOTHER. FRIEND. QUESTION.]”
“I was talking out loud again, eh?” Carl said, looking behind him to see the towering alien duck under the steel door bar, standing up inside the store properly.
“Well, might as well – it’s good enough company, seeing as how you’re not the chatty type.”
The alien just looked at him, and Carl scowled.
“Don’t give me that – you can understand me now! You should at least try to talk to-”
“[FRIEND. HELP. QUESTION.]”
“Oh, now you want to help! Sure, here!” Carl snarked, rolling the shopping carts away from him in no direction in particular. “Look! We’re right next to the card aisle! Let’s see if we can just help each other!” With grand, sweeping steps he marched right into the center of the greeting card aisle, spinning around a couple times in mock search. “Hmm. Nope! This isn’t where the ‘we invaded you on accident and we’re sorry’ cards are! Maybe they ran out – could we hand out a ‘At least we lowered your emissions!’ consolation card? No, that seems a bit too cheeky. OH!”
Carl pulled out a generic ‘hope you feel better’ card and waved it at the alien, who was still a few dozen feet away, watching the spectacle unfold. “I’VE GOT IT! WE’RE SORRY FOR BLASTING YOU BACK TO THE STONE AGE. HOPE YOU ENJOY DYSENTERY!”
“[FRIEND. APOLOGY. HELP. QUESTION.]”
“Oh fuck right off.”
Good news: Grilling was in this season!
“Nnngh. Fucking Charcoal.”
Bad news: Grilling was the only way to cook this season!
Carl lowered his bodyweight as he pushed – one behind the other – two carts loaded with bags of charcoal briquettes. His ‘companion’ was standing next to his truck awkwardly – he had been shooed away from helping pack the bed multiple times, and so instead just stood and watched as the lone man finally wrestled the last two carts near the truck. Those carts joined a few others that held water filters, ammunition, dry and canned foods, solar panel generator packs and board games.
Yes, board games. Not like the Playstation 7 was going to work anytime soon.
The Government news called it a Carrington Event – the thing that knocked out the electronics – basically a global EMP. Stuff that was hardened against an attack like that were relatively ok; submarines, military installations, some hospital generators, things lacking an electronic brain and backup substations made it, for the most part. Literally everything else wasn’t doing so well.
It hurt Carl, on a fundamental level, to know his son’s Nintendo was now just a $800 paperweight – and that of course the warranty wouldn’t cover it.
“[FRIEND. HELP. GO. QUESTION.]”
“Yeah, I’m about to go fuck right off back home, without you.”
The alien pointed to the horizon, and Carl followed his arm – and scowled. Floating over his city was one of their ships, cables and gantries being built into his city with their technology for some unknown purpo-
“No. I don’t fucking trust you.” Carl growled, angrily throwing charcoal bags into his truck bed. “I don’t care if they have power, if they have ‘help’” he spat, “They probably can’t get out. I don’t give a shit. I’m not going, and you can’t make me.”
“[HELP.]” The alien said, gently, its’ feedback almost making a cooing noise as it took a step forward. Like a flash, Carl whipped out his sawed-off shotgun, pointing it between the alien’s eyes. They stood like that for a few seconds before he turned the gun on himself, the alien physically tensing.
“No. I don’t fucking trust you.”
The alien stepped forward, and Carl pressed the slightly warm barrel to his flesh, staring intently, unflinchingly at the beast.
And they stood like that for just a few more moments before the alien backed off, slowly, and watched Carl pack the truck in peace.
And Carl went home alone.
???????????, USA. +6 DAYS AFTER CONTACT.
“[WE. GIVE. POWER.]”
“Yeah, fuck it, that’s a fair trade.” The Man in The Tower said, rubbing his temples.
He was not in Langley anymore – hell, he was one of the first ushered out to Site 4 – and he was not behind his mahogany desk – the utilitarian steel-and-aluminum furniture lacking all the charm of everything not designed to survive the apocalypse. Worst of all, however, was that he was not properly caffeinated for this.
“Jesus. What are we even looking at here?” President Carter murmured, reviewing a handful of the tower of files that crowded him for his attention. “It’s not like we can force them out of our airspace, but-”
“[WE. GIVE. POWER.]” The Diplomat said, wincing – or giving what the humans would assume was a wince – as his voice boomed from the translator-collar strapped to his neck. “[GIVE. FOREVER.]”
“I’m assuming they’re saying they’ll power us until we can unfuck our grid.” Interior Secretary Wiltjen said, turning the schematic over in his hands – upside down, to the side, holding it like an eye-spy for a few seconds before shrugging and putting it back in place. “Like you said Andy, not like we can tell them to fuck off. Actually, speaking of fucking off, have we been able to-”
“The Russians?” Defence Secretary Gates said, half-laughing. “They’re not taking anyone’s calls. Our embassy, along with literally everyone elses’, has been trying to get someone to answer, up to and including physically breaking down the Kremlin’s doors. Nothin’.”
“Yes, yes, fuck off already.”
“Oh don’t give me that, Andy.” Defence Secretary Donald Gates said, rummaging around at his feet for a still-full bottle of whiskey. “I’ve given you my debriefing; the fact that we’re not all alien-chow by now is their doing, not ours. Fuck, we don’t even know what we were seeing there for a few points – did you read that bit about teleportation-”
“Yes, I did, like everyone else did. The POINT, Don, is that we have some sort of decorum in this… ceasefire negotiations.” President Andrew Carter sighed, slapping his folder against his own metal desk. “If we don’t, then what’s the point of going on? If we just give up because we, we…”
Donald grunted and hefted another bottle to his lap. To his credit, he didn’t drink it immediately, and instead turned to yet another top-secret super-important file. Without so much as a word he reached forward for a scattered pen and began to add his recommendations to the executive order. They – that is, the heads of state, not the executive orders – were arranged in a semi-circle in the stark bunker, bare concrete walls arcing forward, graced only by incandescent lighting that was installed probably sometime in the 1950’s, and turned on exactly once to check if it worked.
There was a good few minutes when everyone first arrived at the bunker that they thought the place was on fire. Turns out, an inch of dust on incandescent bulbs burns!
Regardless, this was the last-resort location that allowed those living heads of government to continue the American Experiment in relative secrecy and safety. Relative being the key word, because no bunker could sustain the weaponry that was leveled against it from these invaders, and nobody on staff knew how the aliens figured out where they were. One day, they were sequestered away directing the desperate defense of their homeland, the next there was a gift basket placed outside the vault door and a booming request from the heavens (and on every radio frequency) to “STOP. FRIEND. STOP.”
It was enough to get everyone to pause for a moment, and that was enough for the invaders to start the ancient and noble game of charades.
The alien shifted from leg to leg, chittering something to it’s superiors. He was known as The Diplomat – but everyone there knew it was a quirk of translation, and his true name was unknown. Regardless, every nation-state had a “The Diplomat” talking with them, offering them the same deal – free, unlimited, universal power for absolutely nothing in return, which of course meant something was up. The schematics already shared with the scientific community showed the manufacturing steps to make lightweight, hyper-photosensitive material, giving solar panels a damn near 100% efficiency rate. There were also schematics for capacitors, for battery banks, for wireless electrical distribution – all of it not 200 years ahead of mankind’s technological prowess – at best.
They also included how the satellites they were building around the planet used those technologies.
“Ok, so what’s the next steps, chief?”
Carter sighed. “Well, we need to project order and stability-”
He was interrupted by the uncorking of a bottle, and he glared at his Defense Secretary who just shrugged. The Man In The Tower shifted in his seat, coughing slightly. “Right, so? You’ve got Congress 100% in your pocket right now.”
“Universal Draft? Get everyone trained, make them feel safe – or at least, project safety. Make them feel like we were equals at the negotiating table, I figure. How say the other members of NATO?”
“Roundabout the same.” TMITT said, literally rubber-stamping a series of orders with complete disregard to his duty. “People feel better when they can see something being done – anything being done – even if it doesn’t work. Hell, look at the TSA – that bought us decades. Also, for what it’s worth, I just heard that England’s already building pillboxes in Swindon.”
“And these satellites-”
“[GIVE. POWER. ALL.]”
“Well that answers that. Taking it literally, it means free energy for everyone, everywhere. You-toh-pea-ah.” Science and Technology Adviser (STAS) Jessica Clifford said, spinning a pen between her fingers. “Of course… huh.”
“What?” President Carter said, rolling his shoulders. “What now.”
“Well. Just… if we’re beaming free energy to everyone, everywhere, at all times… what happens to this?” Jessica said, waving her hand about in a vague, northernly direction. “All this infrastructure. The dams, the coal mines, the power plants. These wireless receivers act as step-down capacitors and batteries, so there’s literally no need for an energy grid; everyone just becomes their own grid.”
There was a brief pause in the low murmur of communication, as various trains of thought ground to a halt.
“And it’s not like we can’t implement this technology; not only did these bastards beam it to literally everyone, but they’re already building the infrastructure for it. If we don’t take advantage of it ourselves, that’s a strategic advantage to our enemies, but, like. Where does this all go, though? What the fuck do we do with the grid? The Hoover Dam? Or the TVA?”
President Carter closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, letting out a low groan, his body slouching so far into his seat that his fingertips brushed against the caps of various helpful, but as-of-still-yet unopened bottles of respite.
“…That’s 5 Trillion dollars of equipment.” Jessica continued, her voice seeming smaller.
“Not counting the jobs.” Secretary of Labor Bill Forrest said, tapping his pen a couple times against his desk. “Don’t need polemen if there are no poles.”
“So we need the universal draft, and…shit. Give me a list of other infrastructure projects, we might as fucking well-”
“[WE. HELP.]” The Diplomat helpfully added, his forehands wringing against themselves in his exosuit.
Nobody had the heart to correct him.